Microbial competition for phosphorus limits the CO2 response of a mature forest

Mingkai Jiang, Kristine Y. Crous* (Corresponding author), Yolima Carrillo, Catriona A. Macdonald, Ian C. Anderson, Matthias M. Boer, Mark Farrell, Andrew N. Gherlenda, Laura Castañeda-Gómez, Shun Hasegawa, Klaus Jarosch, Paul J. Milham, Rául Ochoa-Hueso, Varsha Pathare, Johanna Pihlblad, Juan Piñeiro, Jeff R. Powell, Sally A. Power, Peter B. Reich, Markus RieglerSönke Zaehle, Benjamin Smith, Belinda E. Medlyn, David S. Ellsworth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

The capacity for terrestrial ecosystems to sequester additional carbon (C) with rising CO2 concentrations depends on soil nutrient availability1,2. Previous evidence suggested that mature forests growing on phosphorus (P)-deprived soils had limited capacity to sequester extra biomass under elevated CO2 (refs. 3,4,5,6), but uncertainty about ecosystem P cycling and its CO2 response represents a crucial bottleneck for mechanistic prediction of the land C sink under climate change7. Here, by compiling the first comprehensive P budget for a P-limited mature forest exposed to elevated CO2, we show a high likelihood that P captured by soil microorganisms constrains ecosystem P recycling and availability for plant uptake. Trees used P efficiently, but microbial pre-emption of mineralized soil P seemed to limit the capacity of trees for increased P uptake and assimilation under elevated CO2 and, therefore, their capacity to sequester extra C. Plant strategies to stimulate microbial P cycling and plant P uptake, such as increasing rhizosphere C release to soil, will probably be necessary for P-limited forests to increase C capture into new biomass. Our results identify the key mechanisms by which P availability limits CO2 fertilization of tree growth and will guide the development of Earth system models to predict future long-term C storage.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 05 Jun 2024

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